One of our favourite memories growing up was watching our mother get dressed for a party, she was and always will be our first and most important fashion icon and influencer. She is our first for many things, but most important for shaping our identities through different stages in our lives, celebrating our culture, and imparting on us the importance of our stories. From a young age she impressed upon us the significance of our roots, lessons that have stayed with us through age, space and time. From our foods to our clothes, our culture has always remained integral because it is important that people know where we come from.
Whether she is wearing a simple Ankara iro and buba or an elaborate lace up and down (skirt and blouse), dressing up for a party is always something of a spectacle, a right-of-passage for any girl growing up in Nigeria to witness, akin to a production of Ben Hur. The colours come to life, the intricacy and details of the materials, the thought behind the look, and when it all comes together, it is celestial. The focal point of the outfit is the gėlė; a yard of material made of stiff fabric, manipulated into the most elaborate show stopper, held in place with discreetly placed pins that sits proudly on the head; although most times it had its own sit in the car, such is its prominence. It announces a woman’s entry into any room, they see her gėle before they see her; any outfit worth its salt comes correct with its gėlė as the crowning glory.
The tradition of wearing a gėlė goes back to the days of old when women were expected to cover their hair in public places, but in recent years, the power and resilience of youth has put its spin on the interpretation and moved it on from being a traditional requisite to a voluntary but intricate part of our fashion and identity, making it even more noteworthy. The gėlė is much more than just another accessory of dressing up, it is a unique bond between mothers and daughters; my mom showed me how to tie my first gėlė over a decade ago, and when my sister got married in her traditional ceremony, adorning her head with that crown was mom’s responsibility. She did this with all the love and care a mother can ever have for her child, and with such attention to detail whilst sending her off with prayers and blessings for the new chapter she is about to embark on. Sharing lessons of patience and love, happiness and life, just like her mother had done; it was such a moment shared between mother and daughter, one that will never lose its significance. Today, as we step into our roles as mothers and aunties, grown women carving out our place in society, we observe the same traditions with pride, knowing that one day, we too will pass on these words and prayers and stories that shaped us, our heritage that informs us, along to our next generation.